Waisman Computing Services

FAQ 1869Administrator Accounts

What is an Administrator account and why am I discouraged from having one?
In order to install most software on Windows XP or MacOS X, you would need to have access to a Local Administrator account. Windows 98 and MacOS 9 or before did not have this distinction - everyone was an administrator. The term "Local" indicates that the account is only on your PC, e.g, not on the Waisman domain. The term "Administrator" indicates that the account possesses enough rights or privileges to be able to modify or update the operating system files or application software files. Normal User accounts can not do this. This is a security enhancement that began with Windows NT in 1995 and MacOS X in 2001.
For most users, we recommend that you leave these tasks up to the Waisman Computing Services staff. Although we charge for software installation services, it is often more cost effective to let us do this for you since we are usually aware of problems and work-arounds for particular software packages. Also, we are familiar with basic testing techniques to ensure that the application will work with your Waisman domain account.
In general, your computer will be more protected from the internet threats of virus or worm software, spy-ware, etc. if you never use anything but a Normal User account. If you use a Local Administrator account to do anything but install legally purchased software, you put your machine and the rest of the Waisman network at risk.
Using a Local Administrator account to install "free" software downloaded from the internet can also be a big mistake. Much of this type of software comes with other hidden programs that monitor your use, or later provide you with other offers or freebies. These additional hidden programs can be annoyances at best, or can lead to expensive clean-up efforts that are probably not within your budget. Student employees are often tempted into downloading and installing such software.
If your needs require you to have a Local Administrator account, we further recommend that you limit this type of access to a single trusted person. Machines with many Local Administrator accounts present a much easier target for attack over the network. If something goes wrong, multiple accounts (or a shared account) can make it difficult or impossible to determine how the machine or our network was compromised.
Since use of an administrator account poses a security risk to your collegues' computers on the network you need to know how to minimize these risks. To that end we ask that you read and understand the policies on use of administrator accounts and view the administrator account request form which includes a ten question quiz on the information presented in the policies.
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